Most people assume that if you want to impact your community in a major way, you’re going to need a large congregation to do it. That way of thinking doesn’t seem to apply to Goshen UMC, a small congregation in the Northwest District that has managed to start a free health clinic, a food pantry, a community garden, and a blessing box to serve their small-town community.
The idea to offer these free services to the Goshen area came about after another initiative took off in the church to feed hungry children.
Becky Neighbors, District Administrator for the Northwest District, was invited by the Rev. John Humphries to come to the church and talk about how they could get involved in 200,000 Reasons, the Arkansas Conference’s initiative to end childhood hunger in the state.
“It was actually Andy Lowry who brought up the idea for a food pantry at one of our church board meetings. He said all we need to do is break down the walls between the people and food,” said Humphries, senior pastor of Goshen UMC. “Because there is plenty of food.”
“We had a food pantry before but we were having problems figuring out when we needed to keep it open so that people could take from it. We had a lot of food that went bad because of that.”
“So we eventually decided to keep it open 24/7. You can come in at any time of the day and get something you need,” Lowry said.
One day, Humphries encountered an older woman who was coming by the pantry and taking lots of food back with her; more than she would need for just one person.
“I had no idea why she seemed to be taking so much food. It turns out she was taking food for her three daughters as well as her seven granddaughters that were living with her. She said they were going to bed hungry every night until the church started doing this.”
Humphries brought up this story to the Goshen congregation, which sparked inspiration in the congregants to start another initiative gathering socks, underwear and other clothing necessities -- as well as feminine hygiene products -- to provide to the community.
“I know the Bible is clear on feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. So I thought if we can start healing the sick, well then I’m going to retire again!” Humphries jokingly said.
What must have seemed like a lighthearted comment at the time quickly became a reality when Russell Stroud, a nurse practitioner who attends Goshen UMC, came up to Humphries after a meeting and offered to check patients for free.
On the second Tuesday of each month, from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m., Goshen UMC holds a free health clinic for anyone that needs to come in and get checked out by Stroud.
Judi Sartwell, chair of the Staff Parish Relations Committee at Goshen, got involved with the free health clinic because of her experience as a nurse for almost 30 years.
She said that a common problem with people who have low or no income is that they don’t have insurance and are afraid of visiting a health clinic and being rejected. The purpose of the clinic is to give them the help they need at no cost.
Humphries said the reason the church has been able to provide so many free services is that they didn’t go into any of these projects worrying about how they would pay for it all.
“If we have 50 people on Sunday morning, that’s a good Sunday for us. This is a little church but it’s a very loving church. Everybody wants to help,” Sartwell said.
For Humphries, the size of the church isn’t a barrier to accomplishing big things. He said all you need is people who are willing to start somewhere.
by Caleb Hennington, Digital Content Editor, Arkansas Annual Conference
This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.
Goshen United Methodist Church is a part of the Arkansas Annual Conference.